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University of Montana professor under fire for racist comments

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ASUM Looney
Lauren O'Neil
Posted at 4:14 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 18:14:34-05

MISSOULA — Two semesters and three calls for some faculty members to resign at the University of Montana.

Last year, Professor Rob Smith resigned after his controversial blog spouting "homophobic and misogynistic" views came to light. Then, two law school deans stepped down after being accused of covering up sexual assault allegations.

Now, students are calling for tenured business professor Clayton Looney to resign as he's admitted to making racist remarks and using slurs.

Fire Looney Sign

The Daily Montanan reported last October that a University of Montana professor was reported to the Title IX Office for racist remarks in text conversations. New calls for Looney to resign carried through campus last week, but the university said they can't fire him.

"There are real lives to be considered here, and this 100% is a safety issue," one student said during a February meeting of the Associated Students of the University of Montana (ASUM).

UM officials told MTN News that the matter is at a standstill.

"In terms of this specific scenario where it's a conversation between a family, that was determined to not be within the University's jurisdiction, which is where things stand today," UM spokesman Dave Kuntz said.

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Looney came under fire for using racist slurs and language, including "jokes" about Muslims wearing "towel wraps" and hoping that a child grows up to be Black, but not "too Black... like those Ethiopians."

A February resolution by ASUM called for Looney's immediate resignation, saying in part, "Clayton Looney acknowledged that he called a child the n— word on multiple occasions."

"I think there's an understanding that the work doesn't stop at a protest with a resolution. It comes with continued accountability," resolution author Lauren O'Neil told MTN News.

Lauren O'Neil
Lauren O'Neil

During a public comment session at one ASUM meeting, students said they felt uncomfortable speaking out, with one speaking on behalf of a friend.

"There's someone in this room who fits in the categories that Clayton Looney was talking about, and she didn't even want to speak because she has to take his class next semester."

O'Neil said another public comment called on white women to speak out.

"It's important to show that the student body is actively represented by the people they've elected. It's important for students to not feel like these concerns they're trying to raise are going to be dismissed not only by upper-level administration but also by those students in their peer group." - Lauren O'Neil

University officials have previously stated that the situation is a "non-workplace issue."

"There are people that feel genuinely unsafe on this campus. And they deserve to be heard," said O'Neil.

"I'm Black, I'm Muslim, I'm East African. I'm also a student at this University, so obviously, it's not nice to hear," one student said. "One thing that I want to add, though; I shouldn't be the only one that's offended by this, it's kind of everybody's problem."

ASUM Looney

Kuntz called the comments unacceptable, "these racist words are reprehensible."

But he also said legally the University cannot fire faculty for private comments, "in this specific situation the University doesn't have that jurisdiction to take employment action."

That means, professor Clayton Looney will remain in his position, unless he resigns. MTN News did try to reach professor Looney by email but has yet to receive a response.

"What we can do as a University is work with our existing offices and work with our students and our student leaders and really take steps forward to make sure folks understand how harmful these words are," Kuntz concluded.